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Time to replace payback with possibilities

Not long after Donald Trump won the presidency, an online poster said he’d treat the new chief executive with the same deference and respect that greeted President Obama after his election.

Which is to say, not much.

Now that Trump and a Republican majority inhabit the executive and legislative branches, Democrats face the temptation to indulge a natural instinct for payback.

The opposition party now contemplates opposing as many as eight of Trump’s Cabinet and agency nominees. Obama visited Capitol Hill this week to encourage fellow Democrats to decline to render aid to Republicans seeking to repeal the president’s signature Affordable Care Act. There’s even been talk of spurning a Trump nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court.

It would be fun to watch.

What exactly could the disreputable Mitch McConnell — who led the Senate in simply ignoring a duly nominated and highly qualified nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court — say if Democrats blocked hearings or a vote on Trump’s first high-court nominee? McConnell might argue he refused to do his job only in the waning days of the Obama presidency. But now that a new president is in office (one who shares McConnell’s political affiliation) things are different? Democrats could remind the senator that turnabout is fair play.

And Trump’s legislative package? Building a wall, passing protectionist trade tariffs, repealing the ACA (not necessarily with a replacement) and the like? Democrats have enough votes in the Senate to postpone, delay and obstruct all this legislation.

It would be even more fun for Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to host a dinner at a fancy Washington, D.C., restaurant at which they and top colleagues conspire to thwart Trump’s legislative agenda and vow to ensure he becomes a one-term president.

It would be fun for Democrats.

But it would be wrong.

Republicans may have stumbled when it comes to draining the Washington swamp, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a swamp to drain, one festering with partisan poison that dates back decades. Obstruction and delay has replaced cooperation and compromise.

It’s not supposed to be this way. We’re supposed to argue — loudly and passionately — during the election. But once votes are counted, those chosen as representatives of the people are obligated to work together.

Even after a close election — one in which the losing candidate actually won the popular vote by 2.8 million ballots — the nation needs more than ever to come together. The cycle of eye-for-an-eye political savagery in which winning and holding office at all costs replaces actually doing something has to end.

Of course, there will be disagreements. Republicans want to repeal the Affordable Care Act, while Democrats want to expand it. But is there no common ground? Even Republicans want to keep parts of the law. Isn’t it possible that some Democratic ideas and some Republican ones could form the basis of a compromise that fixes the problems with the act without throwing millions off insurance? We’ll never know until the warriors on both sides come off the battlements and give an honest assessment of the best ideas.

Perhaps it’s a naive idea, one that just won’t work. But maybe something useful could come out of the talks.

The point is, somebody has to be the grown-up in the room, to extend an olive branch rather than a clenched fist. Perhaps the Democrats are unlikely candidates for the job. But we certainly know what will happen if we keep fighting the way we have been. More close elections, more anger and more gridlock.

That’s not how it’s supposed to be.

Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist. Follow him at Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at 702-387-5276 or SSebelius@reviewjournal.com.

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